Thursday, June 23, 2016

Judging Others, Part II: Special Children

Dear Parent,
          I hear your extreme pride in your child as they go across the stage at graduation.  I hear it as a small group of you stands up to cheer on your kid, your special progeny, as they graduate and move on to the next adventure.  What joy it is for that entire group of people to celebrate your loved, outgoing, popular child as they are lifted up by the full 15 seconds of whooping and cheering and calling of her name as she marches across the stage, looking slightly embarrassed, but more, looking confident and sure in her place as number one kid of all the kids who have crossed the stage this morning.  She knows she is more loved, more valued, because of the loud cheers that accompany her as opposed to all the other chidren who were simply applauded as most are.  But then the next child walks across the stage, and not to be outdone, her family also stands and cheers loudly, even louder, if that is possible, to show that in fact it is their child who is more loved, more valued, more important. This happens a third time, with an even bigger group of people standing and calling and whooping, this time for almost a full minute.
           And then a fourth child crosses the stage -  A child whose sole parent, his mother, works a job that she cannot miss this day.  A child who has no extended family, and whose mother works such long hours that friends and extended community are not easily made and therefore rarely come into the picture.  And as the light applause follows his walk across the stage, I see the tentative smile as he takes his "diploma", followed by the crestfallen look of unease and distress as he steps down and quietly returns to his seat.  Here is a child who has not won the "most popular child of the year" award.  He is clearly not the most loved, most valued, most celebrated.  And he knows it.

           As I watched this painful display at my child's graduation I found myself thinking about the many ways in which we lift up one group of people over another.  We know that girls, people of color, LGBTQ folk, immigrants, Muslims are treated in ways in our school systems that often lead to lack of the same quality of education and the same treatment as others.  We know this.  We experience it.  We know it is not right.  It is unfair.  It is something that must be combatted and fought.  Do we also see that we additionally separate and raise up kids who are more extroverted, who have more family connections, who are more popular, who have more social skills, in ways that hurt and harm less outgoing, less talented, less connected children as well?  There are simple solutions to this.  It would be so easy to applaud all children the same and then take your child out to a party to celebrate them with their family afterwards, to give them the special attention and kudos they deserve away from the children who may not have this luxury.  But we don't do this.  We still seek privilege and specialness for our own kids in ways that can hurt others.
          I am blessed that my child who walked across the stage was confident in herself.  She was one of the first to cross and she had two adults come to her graduation, both of whom are introverted enough that the whooping and cheers were not going to happen to single her out, but she is strong enough to be okay with that.  Still, the face of the boy who had no one there is burned into my brain. I wish there were a way to communicate to other parents that sometimes singling out of our own child for that kind of public praise hurts others.  That again celebrating and lifting up of your own child might be done in a kinder way in other places and at other times.  But I don't think we are ready to hear that as a community.  So I will simply learn this lesson for myself and when I see a kid who does not receive that kind of special praise, perhaps I will be the one to yell and cheer for him or her.